Lecture to faculty and students at Nihon University

February 6, 1962


Tokyo, Japan

Young men and women of my age in all countries, if they share nothing else, share the problems that torment our world and thus share responsibilities for all our futures. Our generation was born during the turmoil following the first World War. That war marked the dividing line—at least for the Western World—between the comfortable security of the nineteenth century and the instability and flux of our own time. After 1914, the world as the West knew it began to go to pieces. The old certitudes started to crumble away. World War II came as even a greater disaster.

Many young men, in my country as in yours, came out of the misery and chaos determined to do everything they could to spare the world another such catastrophe—and to lay the foundation for peace and social progress. This determination committed them to a public career—a career in politics or in government service. The president thus began his public life by running for Congress in 1946. I was a student at college then, and my fellow classmates and I worked hard in that campaign. My brother went on to the United States Senate at the age of thirty-five, and when he was elected president of the United States, although to you and me he was quite old, he was still a comparatively young man of forty-three!

In this, the United States gave recognition to and conferred responsibility upon the generation which was born in the First World War and raised in the Depression; which fought in the Second World War and launched its public career in the age of space.

I said that this generation grew up in an age of instability and flux. From one viewpoint, this is the worst of times in which to live—a time of anxiety and doubt and danger. But from another viewpoint, it is a time of great stimulation and challenge. It is a time of motion, when society is cutting away from old moorings and entering new historic epochs. It is a time that offers opportunity for initiative and ingenuity. It is a time that transforms life from routine into an adventure. The adventure of change may be a tragic adventure for many—a sad uprooting of cherished customs and institutions. Yet change is the one constant of history.

It certainly has been the dominating fact in the development of my own country. From the first moment of independence, the United States has been dedicated to innovation as a way of government and a way of life. Not a decade has gone by in our nation’s history in which we did not undergo new experiences and seek new challenges. We were born in a revolution against colonialism, and we have been dedicated ever since to revolution for freedom and progress.

My country has not been alone in pursuing these aims, and like all countries, the United States has made its share of mistakes. But at its best and at its most characteristic, the United States has been, above all, a progressive nation—a nation dedicated to the enlargement of opportunity for those President Andrew Jackson described as the humble members of society—the farmers, mechanics, and laborers.

The United States is a nation dedicated to the emancipation of women, the education ofchildren, and above all to the dignity of the individual. This commitment to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” has inspired the essential motive of our national life: the unceasing search for new frontiers, not only frontiers of geography but also frontiers of science and technology and social and political invention and human freedom. These are the new frontiers which must be challenged and conquered by our generation—your and mine. We must meet these problems and still maintain our dedication to democracy and freedom. To do so we must be imaginative and creative—not blindly wedded to the past…We in my country are by disposition and inheritance a people mistrustful of absolute doctrines and ideologies, persuaded that reason and experiment are the means by which free people fulfill their purposes. Yet we live in a century obsessed with ideology—a century that has been filled with leaders persuaded that they knew the secrets of history, that they were the possessors of absolute truth, and that all must do as they say or perish.

One of the great creative statesmen of our age was Franklin Roosevelt. He was creative precisely because he preferred experiment to ideology. He and the men of this time insisted that the resources of the democratic system were greater than many believed—that it was possible to work for economic security within a framework of freedom. Roosevelt and the Americans of his generation created a new society, far different from the unregulated and brutal economic order of the nineteenth century, the order on which Marx based his theories of capitalism.

This new society, since developed and molded by leaders of both of our political parties, is still loyal to its original revolutionary concept of the importance of the individual. Now under President Kennedy it sees as its goal service to mankind in ways never imagined years ago. It reaches out to protect us in our old age, it provides our youth with an ever better education, it seeks to keep our stock exchanges free from fraud and manipulation, and more and more it reaches out to new and greater frontiers that will provide spiritually and economically a richer life. This is not the society condemned a hundred years ago as an era of unregulated capitalism based on laissez-faire…

We in the United States still have enormous problems which we have not solved, as for instance in the fields of civil rights, unemployment, and automation.

We make mistakes, our government and our people—internally as well as in our dealings

with other nations. On some occasions we may move clumsily. However, to err is human and to move awkwardly is sometimes inevitable. The important thing is that as a government and as a people we fight and strive to make progress—to maintain freedom and to uphold at all times the dignity and independence of the individual.

…The resources of the earth and the ingenuity of man can provide abundance for all—so long as we are prepared to recognize the diversity of mankind and the variety of ways in which peoples will seek national fulfillment. This is our vision of the world—a diversity of states, each developing according to its own traditions and its own genius, each solving its economic and political problems in its own manner, all bound together by a respect for the rights of others, by a loyalty to the world community, and by a faith in the dignity and responsibility of man.

We have no intention of trying to remake the world in our image, but we have no intention either of permitting any other state to remake the world in its image…

In the unending battle between diversity and dogmatism, between tolerance and tyranny, let me one mistake the American position. We deeply believe that humanity is on the verge of an age of greatness—and we do not propose to let the possibilities of that greatness be overwhelmed by those who would lock us all into the narrow cavern of a dark and rigid system. We will defend our faith by affirmation, by argument, if necessary, and—heaven forbid that it should become necessary—by arms. It is our willingness to die for our ideals that makes it possible for those ideals to live…

Freedom means not only the opportunity to know but the will to know. That will can make for understanding and tolerance, and to ultimately friendship and peace.

The future stretches ahead beyond the horizon. No mortal man can know the answers to the questions which assail us today. But I am not ashamed to say that we in America approach the future, not with fear, but with faith—that we call to the young men and women of all nations to join us in a concerted attack on the evils which have so long beset mankind—poverty, illness, illiteracy, intolerance, oppression, war. These are the central enemies of our age—an I say to you that these enemies can be overcome.

Let us therefore pledge our minds and our hearts to this task, confident that though the struggle will take many generations, we shall be able to look back to this era as one in which our generations—joined as brothers—met our responsibilities and furthered the cause of peace at home and around the globe.